Home Office in “complete mess” over refugees fleeing Ukraine, says Starmer

Elliot Chappell

Keir Starmer has accused the Home Office of being in a “complete mess” over providing sanctuary to Ukrainian refugees after departmental reports that just 50 visas had been granted under the family scheme.

In an interview this afternoon, after the Home Office revealed over the weekend that “around 50” visas had been processed as of 10am on Sunday, the Labour leader said it is “very important that we provide a route to sanctuary”.

He added: “The Home Office is in a complete mess about this, they keep changing the rules, the stories of what is actually happening on the ground contradict what the Home Office say. They have got to sort this out.”

The UK increased its existing family visa offer to Ukrainian refugees, extending it to parents, grandparents and siblings as well as “immediate family”. The 50 successfully granted visas represent around 1% of the 5,535 people who applied in the preceding 48 hours. 11,750 are said to have started applications.

Defending the government this morning, minister James Cleverly told Sky News that “we are going to make sure that we host Ukrainians in the UK”. He said the final figure would be “significantly” higher than the 50 reported on Sunday and the government is making the process “as quick, easy and as fast as possible”.

Asked whether he was happy with the number of visas that had been processed and granted this morning, Boris Johnson said he is “not sure those numbers are right” and told journalists that the UK is “processing thousands as I speak to you”.

The Prime Minister defended what he described as the two “very, very generous” visa schemes in the UK: the “uncapped” family reunion route and a promised humanitarian scheme under which people can sponsor others coming from Ukraine.

Reports emerged on Sunday that Priti Patel was examining “legal options” to create a “humanitarian route” that would offer Ukrainian refugees the right to come to the UK regardless of whether they have existing family ties to the country.

It is thought that this refers to the already announced route where refugees can be sponsored by individuals, communities or organisation, however, and Cleverly confirmed that there had been no change to policy over the weekend.

The French government wrote to the Home Secretary on Saturday, saying that 400 Ukrainian refugees had arrived at Calais to cross the Channel but that 150 were sent back and told to obtain UK visas at embassies either in Paris or Brussels.

French interior minister Gérald Darmanin accused the UK government of showing a “lack of humanity” in its response to the refugees. Starmer stressed this afternoon that there should be a “simple route to sanctuary” for Ukrainians.

The government is pushing its long-delayed economic crime bill through parliament this week. The legislation, which the government says will strengthen sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s regime, is scheduled complete all of the Commons legislative stages today before going on to the Lords later this week.

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